Art Pepper with Sheldon and Manne


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Laurie's Loophole—that would have been a great song title if Art Pepper had decided to name an original song after his wife's ingenious discovery. In 1979, Laurie Pepper spotted a way around her husband Art Pepper's contract with Fantasy/Galaxy Records. Approached by Yupiteru, a Japanese record label eager to record Pepper on straight-ahead West Coast jazz, Laurie had an idea. While Pepper's contract with Fantasy prohibited him from recording as a leader, there really was nothing stopping him from appearing as a sideman. He could pick the band members, the tracks and even who would serve as a session's leader. All he had to do was wind up listed as a member of the band rather than its headliner.

So Pepper recorded six albums for Yupiteru (later known as Atlas) that were issued only in Japan. The first four were released earlier this year by Omnivore Records and featured Sonny Stitt, Pete Jolly, Lee Konitz and Bill Watrous listed as leaders (for my reviews, go here and here).

Now, Omnivore, in collaboration with Laurie, has released West Coast Sessions Vol. 5 with Jack Sheldon and Vol. 6 with Shelly Manne—the last two in the series. The former was originally recorded in February 1980 and released as Angel Wings: Jack Sheldon and His West Coast Friends; the latter was recorded in May 1981 and issued as Hollywood Jam: Shelly Mane and His West Coast Friends.

The Jack Sheldon album features Milcho Leviev on piano, Tony Dumas on bass and Carl Burnett on drums. In addition to the original list of songs, there are four bonus tracks: alternate takes of You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To, Broadway and Minority. The fourth bonus track is a Sheldon vocal on Historia De Un Amor. Though Sheldon's blowing throughout is superb, Pepper seems lackluster, unable in many places to complete improvised ideas or he back-peddles to get thoughts together before proceeding.

The Shelly Manne album has a larger ensemble and more energy: Bill Watrous on trombone, Bob Cooper on tenor sax, Pepper on alto sax, Pete Jolly on piano, Monty Budwig on bass and Manne on drums. Here there's just one bonus track, an alternate take of I'm Getting Sentimental Over You. Album high points are Cooper's smoky solos and Watrous's smooth, pleading trombone. Both seem to blow fresh wind into Pepper's sails, especially on These Foolish Things (Remind Me of You).

The soft spot here are the song choices, an uninspired list of the usual suspects that didn't seem to be given much advance thought and wind up as yawners—Just Friends, Hollywood Jam Blues, Lover Come Back to Me, Limehouse Blues and the other two mentioned above. Cooper is the star here, and it's a joy to hear Manne's taut touches on the snare and cymbals.

JazzWax clips: Here's These Things Remind Me of You...

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This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
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